Interreligious Friendship

By: Luis Enrique Jacquez
September 29, 2011

My God, why have we abandoned
Both You and Your nonviolent way,
Mistreating by our actions, words,
Your dauthers, sons, whom you do love?

Too many wars are started, God,
By people who claim strong faith in You.
They ask Your blessing on their wars
Which they conduct against Your Will.

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Going to her house was like going to a Tia’s house or even my Grandmothers.  Upon entering her home the smell from her kitchen would welcome us, as did Maria, herself. Tall, dark, with her head fully covered, this neighbor from Jordan became friends with my mom when I was still in diapers.  Her oldest son and my oldest sister started Pre-K together.  One day she asked my mom for a ride home, which began an international relationship that lasts till this day.  Upon entering Maria’s home, just the aromas coming from the kitchen were enough to know it wasn’t Mexican food being made.

Maria’s first language is Arabic and my mother’s Spanish.  They communicated in English, a language foreign to both of them, and yet they understand each other.  Maybe it was their bond as a wife and mother or the fact that they were both women of faith.  My mother is a Roman Catholic and Maria is Muslim.  Never did I recognize the difference in culture at such a young age until one day around noon when Maria excused herself and went to her room.  As any young child I followed her until I was standing in her hallway, peering into her room. She emerged from her bathroom wearing a long white dress that covered her from head to toe.  She knelt down and only later did I find out she was facing east while she prayed.  I kept yelling to my mom, “What is she doing?  Why is she wearing her wedding dress?” And  my mom responding  with, “Because… now get over here.”

The day Maria and her family returned to Jordan was a very sad day for my family, especially for my mother.  She too was a stranger to this nation coming from Mexico and had connected so well with this sweet lady from Jordan.  Never was there a debate about politics, religion, or other volatile subjects.   There was no talk about the Spanish expulsion of the Moors five hundred years ago or the bloody history between Catholics and Muslims.  A few years ago Maria called my mother from Jordan.  They have since, with their children’s help, shared pictures over the internet, seeing how each others families have grown.  Maria’s son is planning to attend my sister’s wedding.  I tease my mom by saying that I am pretty sure Homeland security is listening to you two talk but can’t understand the mix of Arabic, Spanish, and English.  I am blessed in knowing that love can stand the test of time, language, and culture to help make this big world seem a little bit smaller and to show that we are part of a larger family.

I feel that due to this experience at an early age I was able to grow in admiration for Islam.  In my sacred space the Quran is next to my Bible.   During my senior year of high school the pope died and I will never forget a letter written from the Islamic Center of EL Paso, expressing their condolences to the Catholics of El Paso.  I was so moved that I took flowers to that particular mosque and said thank you.  I know it is because of my “family” from Jordan that I continue to pray for inter-faith dialogue to help bring mutual understanding and respect.  I find it fitting that as a Catholic Latino my religious symbol is the Virgin of Guadalupe.  Guadalupe’s name derives from Arabic and that’s just a little too close to be a coincidence.  And we revere Our Lady of Fatima from Portugal, the same name as Muhammad’s daughter.  It seems to me, in some way, that our Blessed Mother is calling all her children to reconcile with one another and to live in the peace that our God desires for all.